There’s no doubt that if you can get your bait out to features beyond normal casting range, you’ll catch more pike. Jon Culley explains how a drift float can help you do just that.
In an unfished water, pike feed without inhibition whenever they are hungry and wherever there is food. However, as with many other kinds of fish, they soon learn to avoid feeding in areas where they have been caught frequently.
On many large hard-fished waters, such as reservoirs and big pits, the pike learn to stay out of normal casting range. They come into the margins only rarely, usually at dawn and dusk, spending the rest of the time near distant drop-offs, islands and other pike-holding features.
Big pits drifter
So, if you can get your bait out beyond the farthest cast, preferably near some feature, you are going to waste less of your fishing time and put more fish on the bank. Drifting the bait lets you fish in the middle of big waters, where the big pike feed without fear.
You can use any fairly standard pike gear for this type of fishing. However, a rod with a test curve of 2 J4-3lb (l.l-1.4kg) and a fast taper to set the hooks at long range can make life easier. A long rod also helps here. The reel must have a large capacity – at least 200m (220yd) of 12lb (5.4kg) line – for long drifting.
There are two main techniques which involve drifting your baits – the first uses a drift float and the second a balloon. Each has its advantages and you should learn to use both, so you can cope with a variety of venues and conditions.
Blowing in the wind
Drift floats are blown along by the wind, dragging a bait behind them. They have a small sail or vane to catch the wind. This is attached to an ordinary floating body. They come in many forms, the best of which have a spherical buoyant body, with a stem or mast for the vane. The vane must be curved in shape or the float tends to spin as it is blown along.
A drift float is designed to tow the bait out with the wind, suspending it at a chosen depth. The vane is usually painted in some highly visible colour, giving good bite indication over a great distance.
The body is a poly ball or something similar. Some makes of float come with a variety of sizes of body, so it’s easy to change the buoyancy to suit the conditions and size of bait you are using.
The line is attached top and bottom which helps prevent the line from sinking. A sunk line can hinder or even stop a drift.
The top eye of the float should come adrift during the strike, leaving the float attached bottom end only. That way the vane does not get in the way of the strike – if it did, setting the hooks at long range would be even more difficult.
To start a drift, you only need to cast to where the wind begins to ruffle the water. The wind then carries the float with it. Make sure you pay out the line in as straight a line as possible – a big bow in the line causes drag.
As it drifts, the bait works pretty much like a trolled bait. The live or deadbait is dragged along – past pike on the lookout for an easy meal. The bait is prevented from swimming along the surface by a 14g drilled bullet on the trace.
When your float has drifted as far as you want it to go, or it has reached the feature you want to fish, close the bail arm. You can then float fish as you would normally do, but at longer range!
If bites do not follow, work the bait back slowly — takes can even come during the retrieve. Next cast, try to get your float drifting along another line and eventually you’ll find the pike.
Balloons are best for getting bait and rig out to a productive area. They are most useful when you don’t need the bait to fish on the way out. Once it is in the right area, the balloon is released, leaving the rig to fish as it normally does.
Attach the balloon to your leger weight with a paper clip. As it floats, drifting with the wind, the balloon drags the rig out to the desired fishing area. The bait is towed out very close to the surface, and the whole arrangement generally travels much faster than a drift float rig.
This means that while you can get takes on the way out, the bait isn’t really fishing until it reaches your chosen spot. For this reason ballooning is best when you want to fish a specific area beyond casting range, whereas fishing a drift float is ideal for searching large areas of water. Ballooning really scores over drifting when you need to be versatile with your rigs. You can tow anything – from a float paternoster to a simple freeline rig – behind a balloon. With a drift float you are restricted to float fishing.
Unfortunately, you can’t cast with a balloon set-up. You can only drop it in at the edge of the water, or it’ll fall off! A gentle breeze may struggle to push the balloon along against the drag of the line and bait so close to the bank. When this happens, tie another balloon to the first for extra dragging power.
When the wind is strong and gusting, you might find that the balloon keeps coming out of the paper clip. Partly filling the balloon with water slows it down and stops it blowing away on its own.
You must also make sure that the line is peeling freely off the spool. If it is catching anywhere, this can impede the drift causing the balloon to come free.
Once your bait is in the right area, close the bail arm and wait until the line tightens up. This gets rid of the bow that usually forms in the line. Wind down, and when the balloon starts back towards you, release it with a firm sweeping strike. This pulls the balloon out of the paper clip, leaving the rig in place.
The balloon moves much more quickly across the water when it isn’t held down by your rig, so it’s easy to spot if you’ve done it right. If you don’t manage to release it first time, repeat the strike until you’re sure the balloon has come off, leaving the bait where you want it.
Put the rod in rod rests and attach a bobbin or drop-off bite indicator. You’re now fishing much as you would if you had cast normally, but much farther out.
These methods may seem complicated at first but once you’ve tried them, you’ll see how easy they are. You’ll also notice that you’re catching more big fish on large waters than the other anglers who all fish within casting distance.